POWHATAN – The Powhatan County Board of Supervisors recently reaffirmed its commitment to delve back into the 2019 Long-Range Comprehensive and gave county staff direction on how to help them move the process forward.
During a joint meeting with the planning commission on Tuesday, Sept. 22, the two groups spent a significant amount of time discussing what approach they want to take to re-open the issue of the document, which is the county’s long-term visionary document, and associated zoning and subdivision ordinances.
The then-board of supervisors voted on June 24, 2019, to adopt the comprehensive plan after almost three years of work and review. In the 3-1 vote, David Williams, who represents District 1 and was the only current board member at that meeting, was the sole vote against it. Larry Nordvig, District 2, was absent at that meeting.
While no votes or direct action were taken during the Sept. 22 meeting, the supervisors asked staff to take their discussion and use it to help create a timeline and a path forward to address the comprehensive plan.
After a bit of miscommunication, discussion settled on the countywide future land use map and its representation of how Powhatan should look as the part of the document most of the members took issue with and wanted to address.
The board also discussed the county’s Major Thoroughfare Plan, which has not undergone an in-depth analysis since 2010 and likely does not reflect current best practices in transportation planning. The document is a system plan intended to improve roadway conditions countywide and along different types of roads.
Future land use map
One of the key issues the supervisors discussed with the future land use map was if it reflects the desired growth and expansion Powhatan residents actually want to see and how sustainable it is when it comes to the county’s resources.
In particular, one of the issues was the map’s reliance on the Village concept – whether Village Center (VC), which is projects with a mix of commercial and residential, or Village Residential (VR), which has the potential for higher density.
Bill Cox, who represents District 4, started a discussion within the meeting on the Village concept in certain growth areas and how it has not worked for the county and is not feasible for the future. He pointed to larger development projects the board has rejected in recent years as evidence that developers are interested in residential projects, not building a village.
The board members discussed how the scale of projects on the map needs to fit with Powhatan County when they are fully built out, especially if the board truly wants to address the tax burden imbalance. Currently the county’s revenue is about 92 percent from residential and 8 percent from commercial taxes.
At their request, staff provided the board members with a document that extrapolated the residential development potential within growth areas based on assumptions from guidance in the comprehensive plan.
In total, the area that the map designates as growth areas make up 8,844 acres, which is 5.27 percent of Powhatan’s acreage. Currently, 982 acres are already occupied by existing residential subdivisions in growth areas, which is about 0.59 percent of the county’s acreage.
Based on the land use map, the maximum potential acreage that could be used for residential purposes in areas designated Village Residential, Village Center, and Economic Opportunity areas is 2,288 acres, or 1.36 percent of the county acreage.
Within those zones, staff showed the potential residential units that could be built based on comprehensive plan guidance. The available 1,610 acres in the Village Residential zone have the potential for 805 to 6,440 units. Village Center accounts for 246 to 574 (when adjusted for the residential ratio in the comp plan) and those have the potential for 984 to 4,592 units. In the Economic Opportunity area, which includes up to 104 useable acres, there is a potential for up to 936 units.
These numbers only represent the potential if all of the land was fully built out with the current designations, said Andrew Pompei, planning director. Most of the areas designated for residential and mixed-use development within the comprehensive plan would have to be rezoned before residential development may occur. The last residential rezoning approved was in 2017.
At the same time, earlier in the discussion, Bret Schardein, assistant county administrator, pointed out that of the 222 residential certificates of occupancy issued in 2019, 88.3 percent of them were located outside of the growth areas. He pointed out that the county can’t focus all of its attention regarding future growth inside those small areas because there is still a great deal of potential for growth in other parts that needs to be monitored.
“This is about 200 homes a year. Eventually, over a long enough time span, if you are not careful in watching outside your growth areas as well, that can eat at your rural landscape. It is a home at a time here and there but it can, over a long enough time, be death by 1,000 cuts,” he said.
One of the other issues the board discussed regarding the map included how it has land use designations with the same names as zoning districts, which can cause confusion and misunderstandings.
While the board is interested in cohesive, large-scale projects that fit with the county and its needs, they also want to create a way forward in growth areas for smaller projects, or “mom and pop shops.” They talked about working on the zoning ordinances after the comprehensive plan is updated to improve pathways forward to make it easier to bring in the kind of development the county wants to see – or not see.
Part of the discussion centered around the look of future commercial growth, with staff showing examples of large projects set back from Route 60 behind wooded buffer zones so they are not seen. They also saw an example of an architecturally attractive commerce center with high landscaping standards that are visible from the road.
Other topics touched on during the discussion included who gets to hook up to county and water sewer; the need to provide workforce housing in the county to attract more commercial development, and the need sometimes to make compromises and recognize that the county can’t always have everything its way on every project.
Major thoroughfare plan
Several times during the discussion about the comprehensive plan, talk kept returning to the issues of traffic and transportation, which is a critical piece of future growth.
Schardein pointed out the annual average daily traffic numbers for the five busiest road segments in Powhatan County: Route 288 from Route 711 to the Goochland County line (54,000 vehicles); Route 288 from the Chesterfield County line to Route 711 (47,000); Route 60 from Stavemill Road to the Chesterfield County line (35,000); Route 60 from Dorset Road to Stavemill Road (29,000), and Route 60 from Scottville Road to Dorset Road (25,000).
While considering those, he asked the board to consider how many of the county’s major roads are rated either a D or E (the worst rating in the county) based on levels of service on those roads.
Traffic is such a major component of future development that the board wants to take a more realistic look at the county’s Major Thoroughfare Plan. They discussed accomplishing the update with the help of the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) instead of hiring another consultant since the county does not currently employ a traffic engineer. One possible plan to move forward is to use some of the existing traffic and road studies .
A significant point about the plan is that the size and scope of projects it recommends may be unrealistic considering current financial constraints and resources. The plan’s project list includes 41 projects that total more than $1 billion. There are four projects on the list that are more than $100 million each.
The consensus seemed to be that moving forward, the county needs to have a more fiscally-constrained, realistic Major Thoroughfare Plan.
Laura McFarland may be reached at Lmcfarland@powhatantoday.com.